With regular technological advancements, virtual assistants like Siri, Bixby, and Google Assistant are getting more and more popular by the minute. That being the case, people are becoming highly dependent on these artificially intelligent programmes for help in various matters.
Within the Middle East, one of the most popular of these programmes is Google Assistant. Over the last year, Google has seen a noticeable rise in mental health queries on Google Assistant in the Middle East. Even though most of these queries are made in Arabic, Arabic responses given by Google Assistant were very few. Nonetheless, search interest in mental health continued to grow, increasing by 1,100% over the last five years, according to Egyptian Streets.
In response to this, Google initiated cooperation with a UAE-based mental health organisation called Safe Space to develop Arabic responses that Google Assistant can provide to people who ask questions about mental health. With the help of their licensed therapists, Safe Space was able to draft a series of coping mechanisms that Arabic speakers can find regarding mental health queries. Google was then able to provide this information through Google Assistant, which can understand all Arabic dialects and respond in standard Arabic.
Now, suppose an Arabic speaker tells Google Assistant that they are experiencing mental health difficulties such as feeling sad, lonely, tired, or suicidal. In that case, Google Assistant will provide helpful responses in the Arabic language, even going as far as suggesting professional help and providing lists of mental health professionals.
Not only will this initiative provide mental health assistance to those who need it, but it also helps remove the stigma around the notion of seeking help for mental health-related issues, which is prominent in the Middle East. With Google Assistant providing results to these queries in Arabic, people will become far more educated about the matter, raising awareness about the seriousness of mental health issues. Moreover, with a feeling of needed secrecy being eminent around mental health issues, Google Assistant will also be a safe space through which individuals can privately ask these questions and get the required assistance. This is a needed step in raising mental health awareness, especially with the events currently occurring across the globe causing deterioration in many individuals’ mental health. With Arabic speakers being aware of the services they can receive through Google Assistant, seeking mental health assistance will no longer be stigmatised.